Weekend Preview: SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 Play Begins
Conference play begins this weekend for three of the biggest conferences in the country, as the Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences all get underway this weekend. Teddy Cahill and Michael Lananna break down where things stand in those conferences going into the weekend.
SEC Ready to Showcase Depth
Key series: No. 4 Kentucky (14-3) at No. 7 Arkansas (12-4), No. 10 Texas A&M (16-2) at No. 13 Auburn (16-1), No. 14 Vanderbilt (12-4) at Mississippi State (10-6).
Three Players to Watch
Jonathan India, 3B, Florida: India is hitting .377/.500/.811 to lead the Gators and has already hit six home runs, matching his previous season high in just 17 games. The junior’s hot start has helped fuel the Florida offense and gives J.J. Schwarz some added protection in the lineup.
Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn: Mize last Friday threw a no-hitter against Northeastern and has so far looked every bit like a candidate to be the first overall pick in the draft. The All-American is 4-0, 2.13 and has struck out 38 batters and walked three in 25.1 innings.
Braden Shewmake, SS, Texas A&M: The 2017 SEC freshman of the year is off to a solid start this spring and is hitting .325/.376/.442. After playing second base last year, he has moved to shortstop this spring and is still looking to find consistency at his new position. Getting him locked in would be a boost for the Aggies.
Pac-12 Returns With Intriguing Slate
Key series: No. 1 Oregon State (15-1) at California (12-4), Arizona (10-6) at Washington (7-8).
Three Players to Watch
Trevor Larnach, OF, Oregon State: The junior outfielder has been an offensive force all season long for the Beavers, softening the blow of All-American second baseman Nick Madrigal’s injury. Through 16 games, Larnach is batting .362/.465/.776 with six home runs and 25 RBIs and will be a tough assignment for Cal pitchers.
Joe DeMers, RHP, Washington: The junior righthander is off to a sensational start for the Huskies, including throwing just the fifth perfect game in Pac-12 history on Feb. 24. The hard-throwing righty has allowed just one earned run on nine hits in 25.2 innings this season, going 3-1, 0.35, and establishing himself as one of the conference’s most intimidating aces.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California: After winning Pac-12 freshman of the year honors last season, Vaughn has played on another level entirely so far in 2018, hitting an absurd .472/.627/1.113 with 10 homers and 25 RBI in just 53 at-bats. If the Golden Bears are going to upset the No. 1 Beavers, Vaughn will likely be in the middle of it.
Three Storylines to Watch
The Golden Bears have gotten off to a 12-4 start under new head coach Mike Neu, but they’ve yet to take down a ranked opponent, dropping their lone Top-25 matchup to Texas A&M. The Bears have plenty of talent, led by Vaughn, closer/center fielder Tanner Dodson and ace Jared Horn. With the No. 1 Beavers coming to town, they have a chance to make an early statement.
Jay Johnson’s young Wildcats haven’t yet found their footing this spring, starting off 10-6. Two years removed from appearing in the College World Series finals against Coastal Carolina, Arizona is a much different-looking team but has the talent to make a regional run if bats Nick Quintana and Alfonso Rivas deliver and a pitching staff fronted by Cody Deason (2-0, 1.03) finds consistency. Washington is in a similar position, albeit the Huskies have gotten off to a tougher 7-8 start.
The Beavers went a ridiculous 27-3 last year in conference play, and it certainly seems misguided to an expect a similar run this year. But how close can they get? And just how deep is the Pac-12 behind them? Stanford, clearly, has emerged as a second contender. Will another team emerge?
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Big 12 Begins With Big Weekend
Key series: Kansas (12-4) at Texas (9-9), No. 8 Texas Tech (16-3) at Baylor (8-6).
Three Players to Watch
Davis Martin, RHP, Texas Tech: The de facto ace since he set foot on Tech’s campus in Lubbock, Martin is off to a 3-0, 2.00 start this year and is a huge reason why the Red Raiders have been able to weather the blow of losing All-American lefthander Steven Gingery to Tommy John surgery.
Ryan Zeferjahn, RHP, Kansas: A 6-foot-4 sophomore righty, Zeferjahn has excelled in the weekend rotation for the Jayhawks this season, going 3-0, 1.96 with 34 strikeouts in 23 innings. He’s a talented arm who drew some buzz on the showcase circuit out of high school.
Nolan Kingham, RHP, Texas: Can the Longhorns ace turn things around? Expected to be a shutdown Friday starter for Texas this year, Kingham so far has pitched to a 2-2, 4.56 line and is coming off a tough outing against Stanford.
Three Storylines to Follow
The Longhorns have plummeted out of the Top 25 after a promising start to the year. They’re sitting at 9-9—granted, against a tough schedule—and could use a conference series win to gain some traction.
Kansas, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise so far this season at 12-4, and the Jayhawks are coming off an impressive sweep against a very good St. John’s team. Kansas has been building for a run, and that time could be now.
A regional team last year under Steve Rodriguez, Baylor has gotten off to an inconsistent 8-6 start but has faced premium competition in the form of UCLA, California and Texas A&M. The Bears couldn’t have drawn a tougher Big 12 opener against Texas Tech, but a good showing against the Raiders could give them some momentum.